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78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book we all must read
I've read most of the recent books about North Korea; both those by scholars and those by escapees. This one, written by a journalist, Blaine Harden, is excellent. It brings to life the terrible reality of life in one of North Korea's many Gulags that exist today. And, what is even more shocking, it reveals the life of a young man actually born inside the Gulag who...
Published on 10 Mar 2012 by CJ Craig

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incredible story. Disappointing writing
It can be easy to make fun of North Korea. With the help of Kim Jong-eun's haircut, many of us can tend to view it from the outside as some sort of big joke. Yet for those living in the North Korean gulags, life is a medieval hell. The horror of these camps - that have existed for decades, and continue to do so - is so brutal a reality that it is inconceivable for us to...
Published 3 months ago by bookworm


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78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book we all must read, 10 Mar 2012
By 
CJ Craig (UK) - See all my reviews
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I've read most of the recent books about North Korea; both those by scholars and those by escapees. This one, written by a journalist, Blaine Harden, is excellent. It brings to life the terrible reality of life in one of North Korea's many Gulags that exist today. And, what is even more shocking, it reveals the life of a young man actually born inside the Gulag who lived the first twenty-six years within a prison. His story makes compelling reading if only because it is a modern-day horror story the world seems unwilling to hear. After sixty years of this totally repressive regime North Korea is now home to several generations of starving, psychologically maladjusted and physically weakened people. Is it any wonder that neither South Korea nor China wants the regime to collapse? The few that have escaped to South Korea and who remain there or move on to another country, such as the United States are totally unprepared to live in our contemporary world and find the adjustment process extremely difficult. Surely this tale of a young man who has endured what few of us can even begin to imagine will urge our politicians that much more must be done to deal with this tragic country. The damage done to the North Koreans is almost worse than anywhere else on earth simply because the situation is so unknown by the outside world. Why do so few care about North Korea? Why is there no urgency in our petitions to politicians and NGOs over the on-going situation in North Korea? I can only hope that more and more people will read this book and be moved to do something to address this terrible situation.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pulls No Punches, 15 Mar 2012
By 
Gregory Shanley (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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"Escape From Camp 14:One Man's Remarkable Oyssey from North Korea To Freedom In The West" is a harrowing real life
story about the "life" of Shin Dong-Hyuak,born in a North Korean prison camp and to say life,there is inhuman is a gross understatment.

The author,Blaine Harden is very honest,this isn't escape,then life is wonderful type of book,Harden is honest that Shin had struggled with freedom since escaping to the West but when one reads about a life of beatings,murders,rape and "snitching" to survive or to gain extra food,to prevent starvation,life where people are treated like human beings,must be like an alien world to Shin.

I found myself feeling ashamed that North Korea,is really only talked about in the West,when they do a nuclear test or some other type of saber waving,the really depressing thing is human rights are still being abused there,at this moment in time.

The one thing I hope more than anything is that Shin's story helps increase the pressure,on North Korea,to radically improve their human rights,or,at the very least,to give them even more bad press coverage in the world.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 27 Mar 2012
By 
Sam M (England) - See all my reviews
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When I started this book I was completely naive to the realities of life in North Korea. This book is a great escape story but most of all a well researched and verified account of the horrors of being a political prisoner in North Korea. I naively though the world had no concentration camps and that mass imprisonment of children for the perceived sins of their parents was only the stuff of Hitler. It is a compelling and disturbing read that leaves you feeling both guilty and lucky to have been born in a free country. I read this book in three sittings and it splits into 3 clear sections, life in camp14, the escape and adjusting to the world.
Each section is excellently written, it is not sensationalist or gory, just matter of fact, leaving to the readers imagination the extent of the horror. Despite the ordeals the subject suffers, it is a good story that keeps you turning the pages and I did enjoy the journey. I finished the book feeling both saddened and angry that such things happen with our knowledge and we are powerless to intervene.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We take so very much for granted..., 23 Feb 2012
By 
Sam Woodward (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is based upon an advance proof copy. It came with a letter from the publisher stating that it was "written before the [North Korean] succession crisis & has not been updated. The book published on 29th March will have been updated by the author."

The letter also says that "this is possibly the most extraordinary story of one mans' life you will ever read." It certainly represents a staggering achievement - Shin Dong-hyuk was bred in a North Korean prison camp & yet knowing no other world, was miraculously able to escape to Seoul & tell the tale. I say he was 'bred' because his parents were brought together in an authorised coupling by prison guards, as a reward for hard work & loyalty. This rare practice (only open to model inmates in their mid-20's or older) meant they could initially spend 5 nights together & then another 5 nights spread throughout the year. The alternatives were strictly forbidden - camp rules state that "should sexual physical contact occur without prior approval, the perpetrators will be shot immediately". Thus Shin was raised in the camp - his only crime was simply to be born to the wrong parents, as Kim Il-Sung had decreed that if one parent went bad, the next two generations must be 'purified' as well.

This is just one example of the astonishing levels of oppression which the prisoners of Camp 14 endure. While many earlier books on North Korea (such as Barbara Demick's highly recommended Nothing to Envy) paint a chilling portrait of life for ordinary citizens in this police state, Shin's story is even worse. Once he escaped to a nearby town, "it shocked him to see North Koreans going about their daily lives without having to take orders from guards. When they had the temerity to ... wear brightly coloured clothes or haggle over prices in an open-air market, he expected armed men to step in, knock heads, and stop the nonsense." The details of how he was able to get out of the country also indicates the chilling extent of the poverty & deprivation that have blighted North Korea & (luckily for Shin) undermined its regime.

While author Blaine Harden includes other sources to back up many of Shin's claims, most of them are of course unverifiable. Getting any information about this secretive state is a challenge - particularly when it flatly denies the existence of the labour camps, despite them apparently being visible on Google Earth. However, having been brought up surrounded by deceit, Shin claims he is now determined to be as honest as possible. Only he knows the real truth of that but there are certainly numerous occasions where he paints himself in a much less than favourable light. Shin is certainly no hero - just somebody who survived in a place where even mothers don't trust their own children, and vice versa, each seeing the other as merely an object in the way of their survival. It must also be borne in mind that Shin was not taught a moral code of conduct during his formative years - merely that the 'original sins' of his parents must be atoned for with hard work & that the slightest breach of the rules must be reported to the guards immediately. But then it wasn't until he was in his 20's that somebody so much as "explained the concept of money. He told Shin about the existence of television & computers & mobile phones. He explained that the world was round."

Sat at my laptop, glancing over at my dusty rice cooker - apparently the ultimate status symbol amongst the elite of Pyongyang - it would be impossible to conceive that people could endure such levels of repression for their whole lives, were it not for this remarkable book. It's an incredible story, which comes across as exceptionally honest - it's far too brutal to be anything else. The author & his subject work well together in giving a sense of how such a harsh environment affects the people who live in it. I'm glad that Shin is in a better place now but it's hard to push from my mind the thousands who are still there - after all, he's the only known escapee. We take so very much for granted...

Similar in style & content to Nothing to Envy, Escape From Camp 14 is even more harrowing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incredible story. Disappointing writing, 17 Sep 2014
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It can be easy to make fun of North Korea. With the help of Kim Jong-eun's haircut, many of us can tend to view it from the outside as some sort of big joke. Yet for those living in the North Korean gulags, life is a medieval hell. The horror of these camps - that have existed for decades, and continue to do so - is so brutal a reality that it is inconceivable for us to imagine, even after reading this book. But the information that has been brought to the world through Shin Dong-hyuk's story, the only known escapee to have been born within a camp, is vital and must not be ignored.

Perhaps it is silly to even mention literary skill when discussing an issue of this magnitude, but it seems a great shame that such an important story has been written by someone with so litte talent for bringing it to life. Blaine Harding tells it in a way that's a bit like a list, and skips through great chunks of time with a speed that belies the hardship endured. For this reason I have given it 3 stars and not 5.

It is commendable, however, that Harding has not sugar-coated Shin's character, in a way that it would have been easy to do. He is portrayed as a deeply scarred individual who has not always been willing to help others help him, or to share his story, for the lack of humanity he himself has shown in the past. Yet the actions that he took only stand as testament to his victimhood, and the brutal and inhumanising consequences of what must surely be the very worst system in the world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars True Story of One Mans Escape from Koreas Toughest No Exit Camp, 10 April 2012
By 
Tommy Dooley (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This is the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk, a 26 year old man who was born inside Camp 14. This is a camp that holds political prisoners and as it is a `no exit' camp; all of the sentences are life. Those in the camps have no rights and in many respects have already had a death sentence passed on them, but the timing is less fixed.

Some of the prisoners are allowed `award marriages', all congress of a sexual nature is banned; the penalty for infraction is death. The penalty for most infractions is death actually, or torture, forced starvation, severe beatings and miserable work. Everyone has to work, what ever their physical health and if you fail to meet your work quota then you have your meagre rations cut. Public executions are mandatory attendance and Shins earliest memory is having been at one. He is the product of an `award marriage', and as such him and his brother will be born, live and die in the camp. They too will have to atone for the sins of the parents.

He is taught to trust no one, to snitch on everyone and to be loyal only to the guards. The camps are the only places where photos of `The Dear Leader' are not compulsorily on display at all times - this is to re enforce that they are outside society. Hence their knowledge of the country, politics and even food is parlous to non existent. They are kept separate from the children of prisoners who have been on the outside. In short it is a living hell and then something happens that makes it even worse and is the catalyst for change in Shins pitiful life.

This story has been told by Blaine Harden (Washington Post reporter) after numerous interviews with Shin. He has done a magnificent job or relaying the true story with amazing details and references for cross corroboration where ever possible. There is a really useful bibliography at the back for further reading. This is also an extremely accessible book and one which I found hard to not want to know more.

It is split into three parts and the third dealing with trying to adapt to life as a free man and in many ways that is as hard as the actual escape for reasons that were a surprise to me. Blaine Harden has done extensive research for this and tried to keep as much of himself out of the book as possible, but that was always going to be difficult. Whilst I was totally absorbed with this book it was because of the story and not necessarily the writing, so even though I can highly recommend it is just not quite the five stars. Anyone interested in Korean history ought to read this at least once and I doubt even with fore knowledge of that regime that you will not be moved by Shin's story.
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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There are much better books on North Korea, 14 Aug 2012
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I was very keen to read this book, as the story is unique - the tale of a man born inside a North Korean labour camp, as opposed to being sent there, who then successfully escaped. However, I was disappointed. The author stresses how he interviewed the subject for many, many hours - and yet the story is so thin, padded out with context taken from other books on the subject. I have thought that maybe I've read too many books on North Korea, and perhaps had a skewed view as everything seemed familiar. So, after finishing this book I revisited Hyok Kang's 'This is Paradise!' and once again, found it a profoundly disturbing read. I just feel Escape from Camp 14 was not very well done and having purchased the hardback, the large font helps fill what is not a particularly long read. It's still interesting, and it's a very tragic story - but so average in execution. If you're still going to buy this book, please read other books for comparison - This is Paradise, The Aquariums of Pyongjang, and most importantly, Nothing to Envy. These books give far greater insight and context on life in North Korea in my opinion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first prisoner to escape from a total control camp in North Korea, 29 Feb 2012
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lilysmum "lilysmum65" (uk) - See all my reviews
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I have read a few books about North Korea lately, both fiction (The Orphan Master's Son) and non fiction (Nothing to Envy, The Aquariums of Pyongyang). This book is a new release and is based on a diary that was written by Shin Dong Hyuk, who was born inside Camp 14, a total control prison in North Korea. If you are born there, you die there. There is no chance for prisoners to earn release. Prisoners work all day every day (except from on Kim Jong Il's birthday), and are treated appallingly, tortured and systematically starved. Shin escapes following a series of extremely lucky breaks, and makes his way alone to South Korea and then America. Bear in mind he didn't know anything of the outside world except what he had been told by a fellow prisoner, Park.

The book covers the years of Shin's life before and after escape. I found it tragic that escapees suffer guilt and self loathing, do not generally adapt well to life in the west, and struggle to make a new life. Shin still has terrible nightmares of his mother's hanging, and his brother's execution, and he still sleeps on a hard floor with a blanket at times. He says towards the end of the book: "I am evolving from being an animal."

This book tells a harrowing, remarkable story, and I would highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just read it, you can't afford not to!, 26 July 2014
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This book is quite amazing. To think that such things are happening to a whole country in the 21st century is almost unbelievable. Sadly it's also true.

This book is easy to read and get into, but to JUST read it like a novel would be to miss the whole point of the book. It really needs thinking about, so that this man's life story truly sinks in.

Towards the end of the book, the writer sums up just why, and how difficult it was, for this young man to cope with life outside North Korea, and it is truly shocking.

The book is well written, and for me at least a must read for anyone who has the least bit of social conciousness. Nothing is sensationalised, but it doesn't have to be. This mans life story is more than enough to make the book unputdownable.

Others may go into greater detail about the content. All I can say is read it for yourself and make your own mind up. i can't recommend it highly enough. It's one you will never forget.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable life story, 10 July 2012
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There aren't very many news stories or articles about North Korea, which is considered to be one of the most isolated and restricted countries in the world. It is the first time that I have ever read the memoir of the former North Korean refugee.

Shin was born in the labour camp 14. It is so sad to read that an extremely innocent child was forced to live in the brutal and inhospitable environment where he didn't hear the word of `love' or `sympathy', and he was never celebrated his birthday until he managed to escape to South Korea. Having been brought up in the prisoners' camp, he rarely saw his parents and brother. He was given the education, but he was only given the rudimentary level of education which enabled him to follow the instructions of work. Raising questions or disobeying the teacher did not only get him into trouble but would be liable to be given very harsh punishment or if unlucky, he would be shot immediately. He was forced to do hard labour in the very appealing conditions from the young age and saw a number of fellow pupils or workers died.

The memoir produced by Blaine Harden is very honest and constructive, and it gives the evidence of the brutal school and work environments Shin experienced, how he would have thought of his mother and brother being executed when he was 13, and the way his life and thought would have changed after meeting of less strenuous teacher and Park who told him the life of outside the labour camp and outside of North Korea. Having done scrupulous and through research, he reveals the detailed account of history and politics and discovers the very notorious actions of transferring collections of disaster funds to the North Korea Community Party, which have been happening since 1980s.

I have to say Shin's story is extremely harrowing, hard-going, gripping, and remarkable, and I was very glad and relieved to learn that he survived to the end and read through his life. I do hope that this memoir will help to increase awareness of North Korean's human right's issues to the world.
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